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What To Do When a Stray Cat Adopts You

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Taking in a stray cat is not always something you plan on doing—it can be a spur-of-the-moment decision. When you come across a stray cat or kitten and know they need a home, pet parents can’t always help but open their hearts and homes to these felines in need.

Things To Consider When Taking in a Stray Cat

Before you scoop your new-found friend into your arms and welcome them into your house, there are many items to consider first. Perhaps most important is whether the cat is actually a stray. It’s quite possible that the cat roaming around your yard has a home and is lost. There are several avenues you can explore to help determine whether the cat is a stray, including the following:

  • A quick way to tell if a cat has a home is to check whether they have a collar and tags with identification. If they do, chances are there will be a phone number you may contact.

  • It’s not uncommon for cats to go without a collar. If the cat doesn’t have a collar, secure them in a safe carrier and take them to a nearby veterinarian or animal shelter to scan for a microchip.

  • Call or email your local shelter to fill out a “Found” report. If the cat’s family calls looking for them, the shelter can put you in touch with the owners.

  • Post some flyers around your neighborhood (or veterinary offices, pet supply stores, etc.) with a photo of the cat and your contact info. To verify ownership, you can ask the person to bring some photos of the cat.

  • Post on social networking sites. Many communities have their own online groups, which can be a fantastic way to crowd-source and track down the cat’s family.

When housecats accidentally go outside and can’t find their way home, they may seem eager to interact with strangers or even try to run into your home. They may also hang out at a distance but appear relaxed. You can also observe their physical well-being. Often, if they are well groomed and appear to be at a healthy weight, they likely have a loving family and either escaped or are just out exploring for the day.

If you suspect a cat is unowned, you may need to determine whether they are a feral or stray cat. A feral cat is a domestic cat that has either never had any contact with humans or their contact with humans has dwindled so much that they are no longer comfortable around people. With feral cats, it’s not unusual for them to avoid people and be extremely hesitant or flee when people try to approach them. On the other hand, a stray is a cat that has left their home, gotten lost, or been abandoned by their previous parents. These cats are typically more socialized and comfortable interacting with people. However, they may still be fearful or shy outside of the comfort of their familiar home and may be afraid of new people.

Adopting an Older Stray Cat

If you determine the cat to be a stray, you may decide to keep the cat. One of the many considerations to keep in mind if you’d like to keep a stray cat is their age. Of course, a cat at any age can make for the perfect pet and addition to your family. However, older cats may have special needs.

For instance, they may require more veterinary care, specialty foods, and medications, which could mean more costs. Though it’s not always the case, older cats are often prone to developing more health issues. This could mean daily supplements, a prescription, and possibly multiple check-ups throughout the year. Even if the older cat looks healthy, it’s wise to take them to the vet for an initial wellness check-up.

Older cats may also have an easier transition into a calmer household environment and may do well with being the only pet in the home. However, all animals are individuals, so this can vary depending on the cat and their history. Of course, there are also benefits to adopting an older cat. They will most likely be out of their crazy kitten phase and more willing to lounge around with you—plus, chances are they won’t be climbing the curtains or knocking things off your shelves.

Adopting a Stray Kitten

Kittens, on the other hand, have their own list of requirements. Most feline youngsters are balls of mischievous energy, so cat-proofing your home may become necessary for a few years. You should also be prepared to set aside some time each day for playing.

While they are only a few months old, it is imperative that you socialize your cat as well. Regularly introducing them to new people and pets can help them develop a well-rounded personality and temperament.

Depending on your kitten’s age, you may still need to feed them kitten food or kitten formula. If you find a kitten, take them to the vet or contact your local shelter immediately to ensure you know the appropriate diet (or formula), based on the age of the kitten. An incorrect diet can be very harmful to a young and vulnerable kitten. Another factor to consider when adopting a kitten is that they have a lot of initial healthcare needs. Beyond receiving their annual examination, it’s crucial that your kitten gets all of their necessary vaccinations, preventive care, and is spayed or neutered.

Can I Bring a Stray Cat Inside With Other Cats?

If you already have a family cat and are considering bringing in a stray cat, it’s essential that you first weigh your current cat’s needs and temperament. Some cats simply do not like being around other feline companions. It could cause them stress and anxiety, and they could become territorial. You may already know from previous interactions if your cat does well around other cats. If you are unsure, put together a plan for a slow introduction and keep an eye on both cats for indications of stress.

When bringing a new cat into your home, start them out in a smaller, closed room such as a spare bedroom or bathroom. This can help avoid the issue of them becoming overwhelmed while also keeping them separate from your resident cat. Give them a litter box, food, water, a comfy bed or perch, and allow them time to settle in first. For some cats, this could take days or weeks.

As they slowly become more acquainted with their new environment, continue introducing them to new rooms while keeping your other cat in separate rooms. Over time, in a controlled setting, you can introduce both cats to one another. However, if there’s an indication of aggression, such as hissing, swatting, or an arched back, separate the cats for some time and try again later.

Although some felines may warm up to their new housemates quickly, it’s not unusual for others to take a few months to become comfortable and friendly around their new roommate. Encourage positive interactions, but never force the cats to be together if they don’t want to.

Apart from all the behavior factors you need to consider before bringing a stray cat into your home, it’s also important to have the cat checked out by a veterinarian first. A stray cat could have health issues or carry parasites like fleas. Without first receiving a clean bill of health, this unknown feline could come into your home and have something that is contagious to your resident cat.

How Much Does It Cost To Adopt a Stray Cat?

There are many ways by which a person could adopt a stray cat. It’s entirely possible that the local cat rescue or shelter has an influx of strays, and you can adopt your feline friend through an organization. In this case, there will most likely be an adoption fee, but this helps cover the costs of caring for the cat and providing necessary veterinary treatment. These adoption costs can vary per facility.

It's also quite possible that you know someone who has found stray cats or kittens and is trying to find them homes. Depending on if the individual has been paying to take care of these cats, they may ask for a small donation to help offset those costs, but others may list the cats as “free to a good home.”

If you acquire a cat free of charge, it will still be necessary for them to visit a veterinarian to receive their essential vaccines and to be spayed or neutered if they aren’t already, which could cost a few hundred dollars. As is similar with any pet, you will also need to purchase supplies, which could add up to over a hundred dollars.

curled up orange cat

What To Do Before Taking in a Stray Cat

If you confirm that a stray cat is homeless and decide to welcome them into your family, the process can be incredibly exciting for the whole family. Not only are you adding a member to the household, but you are also helping provide a home for a cat in need. As many pet parents of rescued animals can attest, when you adopt an animal, it really means you are the one being adopted.

Before you take that final step of bringing a new cat into your home, there are a few things to do to be prepared.

  1. Take them to the veterinarian

    First, even if you aren’t sure if you will be keeping the stray cat, it can be helpful to take them to the veterinarian. While there, the cat can be checked for a microchip to determine whether they are someone else’s missing pet. Your veterinarian can also do a thorough health examination and provide the cat with any necessary treatment or medication, depending on if they have any existing health issues.

  2. Evaluate the situation

    Cats are a big responsibility, with time, effort, and money. It’s important to be realistic about your current lifestyle and financial situation. Plus, you should consider whether you (and the rest of your household) are ready to add a cat to your family. Make sure no one in your home has a cat allergy and that any other cats or dogs will get along well with a new cat. You will also need to consider whether adding another cat still follows property rules, particularly if you live in an apartment. If you aren’t able to adopt the stray cat yourself, can you still provide a safe environment for them until you find them a home?

  3. Gather necessary supplies

    Of course, if the cat stays in your home, you will need to go on a shopping trip to gather all the necessary supplies. Necessities include food and water bowls, food, collar with tags, cat carrier, litter and litter box, litter scoop, toys, and scratching post. If your budget allows, you can splurge on a few extra items such as treats, a bed, additional toys, and a climbing tower.

  4. Plan introductions

    If you have other cats or dogs in your home, you will need to carefully plan proper introductions. Try to be patient and allow your pets plenty of time to get to know one another. Some pets may warm up to their new housemate faster than others. Depending on whether you have children and their ages, you may also need to take some time to introduce your new cat to them. This can also be an overwhelming process for any cat. It’s crucial that you teach kids how to be gentle around the new cat and how they can safely play and interact with them.

  5. Be patient

    Anytime you are introducing a new pet to an unfamiliar environment, it’s essential that you remain patient and work at a comfortable pace for the animal. Not only will your stray cat learn that they are safe and can be relaxed in their new home, but they are also learning to trust you.

Anytime you consider adopting a new pet, there can be a long list of considerations. However, when a stray cat adopts you, you’ll quickly learn that the most important things include spending time with your new best pal and returning some of that unconditional love. Providing a safe, loving home to a cat in need is rewarding in and of itself, but having a fun roommate, constant companion, and best friend added to the deal makes it all worth it in the end.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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